22 Chapters
Medium 9781523095865

9 A Personal Epilogue

Wadhwa, Vivek; Salkever, Alex Berrett-Koehler Publishers ePub

Almost immediately after we pitched this book to our publishers, criticism broke out about the business practices, ethics, and values of the big technology companies. In August 2017, sociologist Jean Twenge published her book iGen, which examines how teenagers are growing up with technology dominating their lives while being completely unprepared for adulthood.1 Her September 2017 article in The Atlantic, discussed in chapter 6, sparked a firestorm of commentary and criticism. Former New Republic editor Franklin Foer published World Without Mind: The Existential Threat of Big Tech in September 2017, a polemic that criticizes Google, Facebook, and other tech giants for what he regards as soulless monopolism that seeks to understand every facet of our identities and influence every decision of our lives for profit.2 In a blog post titled “Hard questions: Is spending time on social media bad for us?” Facebook’s director of research, David Ginsberg, finally acknowledged that perhaps the social network was not so good for its users.3 (The eye-popping irony of the post was that the prescription to solve the problem was even more in-depth Facebook participation!)

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Medium 9781626569737

12 Your Own Private Driver: Self-Driving Cars, Trucks, and Planes

Wadhwa, Vivek; Salkever, Alex Berrett-Koehler Publishers ePub

In a popular children’s book called If I Built a Car, a fanciful fledgling engineer (who is probably about ten) waxes enthusiastically about designing a car that houses an onboard swimming pool, makes milk shakes, and can both fly and dive under water.1 Of course, the car has a robot driver that can take over if the humans need a snooze.

We aren’t getting cars that can make milk shakes or are big enough to house a decent sized swimming pool, and flying cars remain a couple of decades away. But our robot drivers are here.

There are debates in mainstream media over whether driverless cars will ever be adopted and whether we can trust our lives to a machine. A survey by the American Automobile Association in March 2016 revealed that three out of four U.S. drivers would feel “afraid” to ride in self-driving cars, and that just one in five would entrust his or her life to a driverless vehicle.2

When I first encountered the Google car in Mountain View, back in 2014, I had the same doubts. If I had taken the survey, I would have been in the three out of four who are afraid. And then, in July 2016, I took delivery of a new Tesla that had some of these self-driving capabilities.

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Medium 9781626569737

1 A Bitter Taste of Dystopia

Wadhwa, Vivek; Salkever, Alex Berrett-Koehler Publishers ePub

The 2016 presidential campaign made everybody angry. Liberal Bernie Sanders supporters were angry at allegedly racist Republicans and a political system they perceived as being for sale, a big beneficiary being Hillary Clinton. Conservative Donald Trump supporters were furious at the decay and decline of America, and at how politicians on both sides of the aisle had abandoned them and left a trail of broken promises. Hillary Clinton supporters fumed at how the mainstream media had failed to hold Trump accountable for lewd behavior verging on sexual assault—and worse.

The same rage against the system showed up in Britain, where a majority of citizens primarily living outside of prosperous London voted to take England out of the European Union. In Germany, a right-wing party espousing a virulent brand of xenophobia gained critical seats in the Bundestag. And around the world in prosperous countries, anger simmered, stoked by a sense of loss and by raging income inequality. In the United States, real incomes have been falling for decades. Yet in the shining towers of finance and on kombucha-decked tech campuses for glittering growth engines such as Google and Apple, the gilded class of technology employees and Wall Street types continue to enjoy tremendous economic gains.

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Medium 9781626569737

9 Security and Privacy in an Era of Ubiquitous Connectivity

Wadhwa, Vivek; Salkever, Alex Berrett-Koehler Publishers ePub

In an episode of the popular TV series Homeland, Vice President William Walden is killed by a terrorist who hacked into Walden’s heart pacemaker. The hacker raises Walden’s heart rate, pushing him into a serious, inevitable cardiac arrest. Walden’s pacemaker had been connected to the Internet so that his doctors could monitor his health. That was the fatal mistake. Viewers watched in shock and disbelief, but this assassination plot seemingly out of science fiction was actually not that far-fetched.

These days, many complicated, critically important medical devices include onboard computers and wireless connectivity. Insulin pumps, glucose monitors, and defibrillators have all joined the Internet of Things. Every year at security conferences, hackers are demonstrating new ways to compromise the devices we rely on to keep us alive. Former Vice President Dick Cheney famously asked his doctors to disable the wireless connectivity of the pacemaker embedded in his chest. “It seemed to me to be a bad idea for the vice president to have a device that maybe somebody on a rope line or in the next hotel room or downstairs might be able to get into—hack into,” Cheney’s cardiologist, Jonathan Reiner of George Washington University Hospital in Washington, D.C., told 60 Minutes in an interview in October 2013.1

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7 We Are Becoming Data; Our Doctors, Software

Wadhwa, Vivek; Salkever, Alex Berrett-Koehler Publishers ePub

There is nothing like a near-death experience to make you acutely aware of how much we rely on medicine and the healthcare system. I suffered a massive heart attack in March 2012 and nearly died. The doctors saved me. Since that terrifying event, I have tracked developments in technology, medicine, and wellness carefully. All along, I wondered why so much health care aimed at saving us after we fell ill rather than at keeping us healthy and spotting the problems well in advance. People in the healthcare sector call such an approach wellness care, or preventive medicine.

In researching the advances in healthcare technology, I saw an amazing future emerging. Applications for iPhones began to appear that could monitor heart rates and perform other basic medical monitoring. Then came applications of greater complexity, ones that harnessed the power of the smartphone’s camera to scan images in search of anomalies such as moles or to gauge skin color as a proxy for other health issues. Next came attached devices such as the ECG cradle I discussed earlier in this book. I began talking with geneticists, who told me about powerful advances in our ability to decode the genome and even write entirely new DNA that have resulted from the acceleration of computing. (Recently those advances have made editing DNA nearly as easy as running a high school science laboratory).

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